June 28th, 2015
Christian Education and Family Ministries Director
From the Introduction to Quaker Affirmation A Course of Study for Young Friends
“Through the combined efforts of many within Indianapolis First Friends Meeting, the Quaker Affirmation class was created to inspire our young people, help them explore their spirituality, and connect them to being a Quaker. To be able to affirm that something is true in your life, you have to test it. To affirm your faith, you have to challenge yourself. To affirm your faith as a Friend, you need to know what Quakers are all about….or at least, know as much as you can at this point in your life. This Affirmation Class was offered this past year to our Middle School and High School Youth. We have provided many different ways of learning about faith as a Friend, and lots of experiences where they have tested their faith. Over the past ten months, students have explored Quaker history, the testimonies of Friends, the different ways Quakers use to discern God’s voice, Quaker theology, Quaker artists and changemakers, how Quakerism compares to other religions, and their own beliefs and spirituality. This has been a significant journey for all involved, and our prayer has been that we will all have grown in ways that will change the world and deepen our relationship with God.”
This Affirmation journey began 2 and a half years ago when I had just stepped into the interim position of Christian Education Director. The Center for Congregations (which is a Lily foundation supported organization that supports faith congregations throughout Indiana) sent an email to the Meeting identifying a grant opportunity for new youth iniatives in congregations in central Indiana. I walked into Ruthie’s office and said what do you think about this and she began to outline the Quaker Affirmation program that she had been thinking about and developing in her mind for years. This idea seemed to fit the criteria for the grant and we began developing plans to apply for the grant.
This began the first instance of a large number of volunteers from the Meeting supporting this project. We had a project team to help develop the Affirmation idea and respond to the grant application. This team consisted of Jed Kay, Carol Donahue, Barbara and David Blackford, Heather and Ellie Arle, and Ruthie. With the input of this group, we fleshed out the Affirmation program and submitted the application including a projected budget.
We were approved for the grant in May 2014 for $14,468. This grant required the congregation to match the Center’s contribution and put a limit on grant funds available for a capital project like renovating our basement (part of our grant application). We knew that we would need to raise $17,813 from our Meeting.
We created a project team to guide our process to create the Affirmation program, renovate the basement, recruit young people, raise funding and provide support. This group consisted of Vicki Wertz, Jim Kartholl, Amanda Cordray, Heather and Ellie Arle and Ruthie and we met numerous times over a period of months.
After interviewing several people to hire to develop our curriculum, we selected Vicki Wertz to write the lesson plans for the ten months of the program with both a teacher manual and student manual. Vicki has done an amazing job in creating this curriculum allowing for a fun icebreaker each lesson, altering learning styles including PowerPoint, group study, interactive discussion, review and reflection time. She researched many sources of information in many places to bring this together.
We worked with our team to come up with the outside activities that would complement the lessons of study each month. We put a fundraising plan in place that included a car wash, working at the Dairy Bar, a Quaker hoedown lunch, sales from coffee and chocolate, a request to our Trustees to help with the renovation of the basement and a direct appeal to the individuals of the Meeting to support this. The response was overwhelming and we had raised all of our funds before we started the program in September 2014.
Leslie Kartholl led the renovation of our basement into our “youth space”. The space has really been transformed and I think we all consider it our youth and Affirmation home.
We started with a group of 13 young people between 5th – 10th grades. Our average attendance during our time together was 10 young people. We are affirming 11 young people today and this represents a real commitment by our young people and their parents to participate in Affirmation. Deb Hejl taught 3 lessons, Ruthie taught 3 lessons and I taught 3 lessons.
We spent 2 months studying our Quaker history. We had a scavenger hunt in the Meeting House (we learned a lot about our Meeting) and traveled to Richmond to visit the Levi Coffin house and had a guided tour of the home and heard the story of this amazing family, how many slaves they saved and how they exhibited the Quaker testimonies in their life.
We studied the Quaker testimonies and went to Connor Prairie and experienced their program of Follow the North Star where we became slaves and were treated as slaves for an hour until we met a Quaker couple that helped us escape. This was a ery powerful experience of the testimony of equality.
We examined Quaker theology and had a panel of Jon Tippin, Linda Lineback, Eric Tinsley and Mary Blackburn answer a bunch of tough questions from the kids about the Bible, Jesus, Heaven, Hell etc. The exchange and thoughtful responses were inspiring.
We studied different forms of Quaker worship and attended North Meadow Circle of Friends unprogrammed Meeting. We examined Quaker discernment and Meeting for Worship and the young people attended a Meeting for business and presented a new item for business – a youth pastor to build on the connections made through Affirmation and create a youth group in the fall that has been approved and we are working on.
We studied other religions and how Quakers fit. We had a number of young people from Daud’s Muslim community join us and invited us to share in their worship. This was a beautiful and mystical time together as the kids organically sat together over lunch and talked and share. We asked each other questions about our faith and the kids provided the answers. We also visited Beth El Zedeck for their Friday evening service and spent quite a bit of time with the Rabbi and Religious Education Director learning about the Jewish faith and traditions.
Leslie Kartholl helped us create our own painting of Pendle Hill as we studied how Quakers express themselves in music, art and writing.
We shared a time with Noah Baker Merrill as we examined what Quakers are doing in the world today and envisioned what we would keep and discard about our Meeting if the kids were in charge.
In 2 weeks we will be traveling to Philadelphia to see Quaker and historical sites and stay at Pendle Hill. We are excited to share this time together – 9 young people and 6 adults will be making this journey.
Throughout our Affirmation program we have had several visitors join our class including Helen Davenport, Barbara Oberreich, Bill Heitman, David and Barbara Blackford, Duffy Fankboner, Bob Davis and a few others. Parents provided our lunches and our Christian Education Committee has supported us throughout this adventure.
We are most thankful for the care, encouragement and support of the entire Meeting. This has been a meaningful experience for all involved.
I have heard from many different Quaker Meetings and Yearly Meetings interested in this curriculum to offer their young people. Vicki is working on “generalizing” the curriculum so we can offer it for free as a download to other Quakers.
Our plan is to offer this again in 2 years. Thank you all for being part of this incredible journey. We have all learned much more about what it means to be a Quaker, to examine our faith and beliefs and to experience the presence of God in our lives.
We are now going to ask our Affirmation youth to come forward and share their final projects with the Meeting. Each young person was asked to create an essay, collage, poem, website etc that expressed what was most meaningful to them during our Affirmation program.